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Authors note: I wish to extend my deepest apologies for not posting this update sooner. Life has been hectic lately and it has delayed me, but I will try harder to update in a more timely manner. Thanks to all of you who bugged me about where I was. It was gratifying to know that you truly were interested in the story.
Merry awoke to Pippin shaking him relentlessly. His eyes cracked open and he stared up into the exhausted face of his cousin. He squelched the sudden impulse to yell at Pippin for waking him when he saw Pip’s face. The Took obviously did not wish to wake anyone, let alone Merry.
“They’re packing up, Merry. We’ll be leaving soon so you’d better get up or you won’t have time to eat,” he whispered tiredly.
“So soon? We just got here,” Merry exclaimed. He sat up and looked around the camp. The Elves were talking softly amongst themselves and looked as if they had never had an exhausted moment in their lives. Merry felt a stab of resentfulness until his eyes moved to Aragorn. The Ranger was coughing deeply, almost to the point of choking, as Gandalf rubbed his back and wiped away the thick sputum that ran from the man’s mouth. Aragorn did not even have the energy to spit it seemed and Merry’s face creased into a frown. That frown deepened when his gaze shifted to his elder cousin. Frodo was curled into a ball, resting or trying to rest, in Elrond’s lap. He was wrapped in an uncountable number of blankets, resembling more a cocoon than a hobbit. His face was very pale save for two spots of high color on his cheeks. Merry realized he could hear Frodo trying to breath even from his distant perch and as he watched Frodo began coughing loudly, more of a bark actually, thought Merry. Elrond leaned his cousin over his arm and began pounding on the hobbit’s back. Frodo’s eyes opened weakly as he began to choke, then his body convulsed and a viscous stream of vomit and pinkish mucous streamed from his mouth and onto the ground beside them. Merry looked at the ground and saw that this had not been the first time that Frodo had thrown up. He looked more closely at Strider and saw that Gandalf was now washing the Ranger down with tepid water and for a moment at least, the Ranger looked to be at peace. There was a shallow pan at the side of the gurney and Merry swallowed hard when he saw what was in it.
“However did I sleep through all of this?”
“We all did except Sam, Elrond and Gandalf,” Pippin replied.
Merry looked for Sam and saw him scurrying back and forth between Frodo, Aragorn and the fire where a simple meal was cooking. He looked wan and tired, but mostly worried for both of his friends.
Seeing the urgency of the situation filled Merry with new vigor and he rose, hastily rolling up his bedroll. He and Pip rolled Frodo’s bedding up, collected their belongings and after filling their packs and lashing the bedding to them, made their way to the fire.
“Mornin’ Mr. Merry, Mr. Pippin,” Sam said with a solemn nod. He served them some porridge with dried fruit, topped with honey and dusted with cinnamon. They ate in silence, watching the barely controlled chaos around them. After they had eaten, the pans and bowls were given a cursory rinse and packed to be washed more thoroughly later. Elrond rose and Frodo roused as he was lifted onto a huge horse to sit in front of the elf Lord.
“I want to walk beside Aragorn,” a voice said weakly. The owner of said voice broke into a fit of coughing that made Sam wince in sympathy.
“Not this time, Ringbearer. You will ride with me,” Elrond said evenly.
Frodo looked at the elf as if he would object and then thought better of it.
Pippin looked at Merry in alarm, “Frodo must be really sick, Mer’, he didn’t argue or challenge Elrond’s authority at all!”
Merry looked sadly at Pip, “I think we will be moving very quickly on this last leg of the trip, Pip. Both he and Strider are seriously ill.”
Pip’s eyes rounded and he looked shaken as Merry gave him a quick hug before joining Elrohir and his mount. Pip ran to Gandalf’s side, “We have to hurry, Gandalf,” he said in a rush and put his hands up while jumping in place indicating he needed lifting onto the back of the horse.
Even though the situation was grave Gandalf could not help but grin. “Indeed, I believe you have the right of it, Master Took, we are ready let us depart immediately. Pip looked around seeing Sam in front of Elladan on his mount. The gardener no longer looked fearful of the height or horse, but fear for Frodo was writ on his face. They were off in a matter of moments, the runners smoothly gliding through the last of the close growing trees and out onto the flat top of the mountain. While the others maneuvered carefully down the switch backs to the vale below, the runners easily traversed the trail always keeping Aragorn’s travois level and motionless. Soon they were at the edge of the vale waiting for the others. Merry studied them carefully, ‘they don’t even look winded,’ he thought in wonder. Elrond raised his hand towards them and shouted in a loud voice, astounding the hobbits as the elf Lord usually spoke just above a whisper. The words were Elvish and the runners bowed towards their leader before picking up their burden and continuing their run across the vale towards Rivendell. As Merry watched, they broke into a sprint and disappeared from sight.
“That’s amazing,” he breathed. “However do they do that?” He whispered to himself.
Elrohir answered saying, “From a young age they are groomed for their vocation.” Merry looked puzzled and Elrohir smiled, “Usually our speeders are used to carry news to my Lord Elrond. They can travel easily for many leagues, moving at great speed without need for rest. They are more agile than a horse and a rider so they can maintain their speed through almost any terrain. They are not usually burdened as they are now. It slows them down appreciably.”
Merry gaped up at Elrohir, “But I think they are moving at an incredible speed. You feel they are running too slowly? Do they truly go even faster?”
Elrohir grinned, “Yes, they do. You should see them when they are burdened only with a missive for my father!” Then he laughed at Merry’s expression of awe.
The remaining members of their group had slowed and were carefully picking their way up along a narrow path that switch backed up a steep mountain. Pip strained to see over the top hoping they would finally see Rivendell, then slumped back in defeat seeing only more of the meandering trail disappearing into the trees. They continued on, slower now as they negotiated the closely growing evergreens. A hobbit would be lost in a thrice, thought Merry before realizing that the path was enspelled and changed course behind them.
‘Better to keep out the enemy,’ he thought. “Elrohir, I don’t remember the path being so contrary when we came out from Rivendell,” Merry commented.
“If I know my brother it was not. He would have had Elrond lift the spell to make your passage easier.”
Merry harrumphed, “We aren’t helpless, you know. Why, the Old Forest in Buckland is much like this one only the trees here are friendlier, if that makes sense.
“It does, but were you an enemy I do not think you would find that to be true.”
As they broke through the tree line the hobbits, except for Frodo who was unaware of all around him, gasped. Below them lay the valley of the Last Homely House. The waterfalls and yellow, red and orange leafed trees attested to that fact even though the Home itself was still further on. They felt a peacefulness permeate their souls as they began the climb down into the valley. Merry frowned, noticing for the first time, how the vale seemed to be in perpetual Fall. The trees they had passed on their journey were green with new Spring growth yet those surrounding Rivendell were covered in what seemed an endless supply of golden foliage. He looked over at Lord Elrond and wondered if this somehow reflected the end of the Age of Elves and he felt a great sadness wash over him at the thought.
It seemed to take forever, but finally they viewed Rivendell from the steep path and before long the entourage had arrived at the steps leading into the Last Homely House. Sam nearly vaulted from the front of the horse and were it not for Elrohir he would have taken a nasty fall onto the cobbles. He ran to Elrond’s side and lifted his arms up towards his Master lying limply in Elrond’s arms. Elladan was struck with the image of a tot reaching to be picked up by a doting parent. Elrond smoothly dismounted with Frodo in his arms, and Elladan could see rings of sweaty curls clinging to the Ringbearer’s rosy face. ‘Not rosy due to health unfortunately,’ he thought. As if sensing his thoughts Elrond turned towards him and gave him a grim smile.
“Please take the Ringbearer to his room and prepare him for a cool bath, my son,” he instructed as he laid the hobbit in Elladan’s arms. Sam was at Elladan’s side in a heartbeat and scurrying to keep up with the elf as he moved quickly towards Frodo’s room. Elrond took the steps two at a time as he unfastened his light armor and handed it off to an awaiting elf. When he reached the landing an elf stood ready with his usual robes which he donned smoothly as he continued towards his son’s room.
Merry and Pip trailed behind Gandalf and began to make their way towards Frodo’s room before he stopped them, “No, my dear hobbits, you need to eat and take your own rest first.”
Merry made to object when Pippin placed a hand on his arm, “will they be alright, Gandalf?” the younger hobbit whispered.
The wizard easily dodged the question, “There is no other place in Middle Earth that could treat their maladies so expertly, Master Took. They are in good hands, I assure you. However, they too will need to be tended, fed and rested so you will not be needed until much later while Elrond and his healers see to their needs. Go…have your mountainous meal,” he chuckled, “bathe then rest and see if you cannot convince Samwise to join you!” The wizard chuckled.
Reassured, Merry and Pip headed down the hall towards Frodo’s room to gather Sam. The moment they were out of site, Gandalf’s shoulders slumped and the easy smile fled his face. Then he straightened his shoulders and determinedly marched down the hallway, the click of his staff the only sound of his passing.
As he approached Aragorn’s room a cry of pain issued from within. He rushed through the door and into utter chaos. Elves were moving quickly about the room. At its center illuminated by light, lay Aragorn with Elrond bent over his leg. He was giving instructions to an assistant in brisk Elvish, the only sign of the elf Lord’s barely concealed worry. Aragorn appeared to have been washed thoroughly, his hair still damp and glistening in the light. Gandalf hadn’t seen Aragorn unclothed and was alarmed to see that the Ranger had lost a lot of weight during his ordeal, and now he lay exposed on the table looking gaunt and completely vulnerable. The Maia shook his head sadly knowing how the strong, virile man would have felt were he aware of the scrutiny he now was receiving.
Elrond finished the exam and chose a tall glass vessel from one of the many colorful flasks lining the shelves of the room. He removed the glass cork, sniffed the contents and nodded to himself. He whispered to those assisting him and each grabbed hold of the delirious man just as Elrond poured the liquid over the broken leg. A loud cry of pain filled the room as Aragorn writhed and fought against those holding him down. Elrond was not immune to his foster son’s cries for help and Gandalf saw the elf’s shoulders tense each time he heard them.
Finally finished, Elrond took some gauze, sprinkled it liberally with herbs and placed it on the wound. Next he wound strips of gauze around the leg. While the makeshift splints the hobbits had made had done a good job splinting the leg, now new polished wood splints were applied to the leg and tied into place. Elrond gently placed the leg on two or three pillows before moving to Aragorn’s side. He dipped his finger into a paste then placed the paste under Aragorn’s tongue. As Aragorn slowly slipped into unconsciousness, Elrond mopped the Ranger’s face and torso with a cool cloth. Finished, he washed his hands in a basin, issued instructions to his healers then turned to Gandalf. ‘He is exhausted,’ mused Gandalf.
“Come, sit, my friend,” Gandalf murmured as he sat down and patted a chair next to him. He drew out his pipe, “How is he?”
“He is quite ill. He has a very high fever, but his wounds are healing and show no sign of infection, which means the infection, is coming from his lungs,” Elrond said, rubbing his face with his hands. He motioned a healer over to him.
Gandalf took a deep puff on his pipe and let it out slowly, his eyes twinkled as a slow grin touched his lips. A portly elf came over to Elrond. Gandalf had never thought about elves and how they were built and now he realized that this elf was a rarity. Indeed, the fellow could have been a man if not for the ears, he mused. The healer was shorter than the others by at least a head and was balding on top, another rarity for an elf. He had a fringe of long gray hair coming down the sides of his head which was pulled back into a long braid that ran down the man’s back. The man’s face seemed to reflect more emotion and expression than his fellow elves and there were laugh lines and distinct crinkles at the corners of the healers blue eyes. ‘I shall look forward to getting to know this unusual person,’ thought Gandalf.
“Yes, my Lord? I have seen to the needs of the Ringbearer. He has been bathed in a tepid bath and placed in bed. I gave him some nettle and meadowsweet tea and I am hopeful that it will help him to rest. After much encouragement, the other hobbits went to the kitchens and then I instructed them to bathe and rest. Master Gamgee initially, would not leave his Master’s side, but I insisted. The other hobbits were finally able to convince him that the Ringbearer would wish it.”
“Very well, Balorin, I appreciate your taking the initiative, as always, and tending to the Ringbearer. I also approve of your medicinal choices, of course,” Elrond smiled placing his hand on the man’s …er..elf’s, Gandalf corrected himself, shoulder. Gandalf’s curiosity peaked as he watched the interaction. Elrond never smiled endearingly at anyone not that he didn’t feel that way towards his people. In addition, he had touched the man in an almost affectionate manner, something he had only seen Elrond do with his children. ‘Curiouser and curiouser,’ the Maia mused. ‘Once things are more settled, I *must* speak with Elrond about this unusual healer,’ he thought, giving the man another appraising glance. Suddenly he heard raised voices and saw healers rushing to Aragorn’s side as Elrond whirled and ran with them. Aragorn was in the throes of a seizure, arching his back as his arms struck out even as his lower body jerked and contorted. His eyes had rolled back and someone had quickly placed a strip of leather between his teeth. At last he settled and lay limp and pale against the sheets. One elf quickly went about carefully replacing the wet nappy while another washed the man’s body down with cool water. Elrond looked beyond concerned.
“Bring me some white lily tincture,” he murmured to the squat elf.
The elf looked alarmed, “Are you certain, my Lord? He is quite weak, it might be too potent for him,” Balorin responded.
Gandalf’s eyebrows shot up when he heard the healer challenge Elrond’s request. “Yes, it is strong. We will need to monitor him closely and bind his hands and legs in case the hallucinations become too much for him,” Elrond said quietly.
“Yes, my Lord,” the elf said quietly before leaving to do as he was instructed.
“You must tell me more about that unusual healer,” Gandalf whispered as he watched the elf depart.
Elrond smiled, “It is a long story that I cannot go into now, however if we are allowed time, a cup of tea and a warm fire to sit beside, I would enjoy telling you of him.”
“What is this white lily you were discussing? Your healer friend seemed alarmed to hear you would be using it,” Gandalf asked worriedly.
“It is a very potent curative. Normally we would make a tea but since Aragorn is in no position to drink one, a tincture will have to do. Balorin is concerned because the tincture is highly concentrated and one must be careful to not give too much especially in combination with other medicines. It is used for high fevers, lung sicknesses and wounds as well, in addition to being an excellent cleanser of the blood. We have had great success with this medicine despite the side effects.”
“Yes, it causes vivid hallucinations. Hopefully, Aragorn will remain unconscious and not experience this. It can be most…disconcerting.”
“You have tried it?”
“Yes, once, to see how it would affect a person. It was an unnerving sensation and to this day, using Lily root makes my throat dry at the thought,” Elrond said in a low whisper.
Gandalf looked worriedly over at Aragorn just as Balorian dropped three drops of the tincture onto the Ranger’s tongue, and frowned.
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